On Monday 11 February, Naval Group and the Commonwealth of Australia (CoA) signed the Strategic Partnering Agreement (SPA) for the Future Submarine Programme (SEA 1000). Three years after Naval Group’s SHORTFIN BARRACUDA was selected as the preferred design for the 12 (recently named) ATTACK-class submarines, the contract is a key milestone in defining the programme’s main sticking points such as transfer of technology and who will eventually own Intellectual Property (IP).
With regards to IP, Jean Michel Billig, Executive Director of the Australian Programme for Naval Group, told journalists during a small press telephone conference that the CoA would own the foreground IP while Naval Group would retain the background IP. In other words, the CoA will own the IP of all the activities specific to the Australian submarine programme, covering build, maintenance and operation, while Naval Group will retain IP for all knowledge related to the design of the submarine.
Over the press conference, Mr Billig put significant emphasis on the fact that Naval Group was fully committed to enhancing Australian sovereignty over the programme. Responding to concerns over how the company will work with and within an industrial landscape it is not yet very familiar with, Mr Billig noted that three main steps will be taken to map the industry landscape in Australia: understanding the main areas of expertise already available in the Australian industry; progressively qualifying Australian companies; and, in order to accelerate this process, Naval Group is encouraging Australian companies to partner with European companies.
Less clear were perhaps the criteria Naval Group will apply to ensure a high degree of Australian involvement in the programme. Mr Billig noted that the company has agreed with the Australian government not to use percentages of industrial involvement as a criteria, noting that this would most likely be difficult to determine and not accurately reflect the manner and extent of involvement. Assurances were given that Naval Group will maximise the share of Australian content: “Our bid tenders will include a vast list of criteria that will allow to evaluate in particular the share of Australian content, be it financial, in terms of employment, of added value, etc,” a company statement to the author noted, “Naval Group will then address a selection report with a recommended choice to the CoA who will make the final decision.”
Tenders will be open to companies from all over the world, who will have to comply with a set of predefined requirements, including: demonstration of technical expertise in the relevant domain; acceptance of IP and security rules; and, inclusion of maximised share of Australian content.
The SEA 1000 programme is just now entering the design phase, which is scheduled to last four years. The detail design and initial build should therefore kick off in 2023 and last ten years. From there, Naval Group plans to deliver a submarine every two years, with the first one arriving in the mid-2030s (on the basis of the times indicated above) and the last one expected some time in the 2050s.
This is likely to mean that a number of submarines from the current ‘Collins’ class fleet would see their life extended for another ten years if Australia is to maintain its submarine fleet in a region of increasingly contested waters.
Dr Alix Valenti